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In Fattah indictment, a big name from Rendell era resurfaces

During his years as Ed Rendell's deputy mayor, Herbert Vederman refused to collect a city paycheck, living instead off the millions he made from his family's retail clothing empire.

Herbert Vederman (left) and Ed Rendell in 2002. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer )
Herbert Vederman (left) and Ed Rendell in 2002. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer )Read moreINQ

During his years as Ed Rendell's deputy mayor, Herbert Vederman refused to collect a city paycheck, living instead off the millions he made from his family's retail clothing empire.

But recently, federal prosecutors say, he benefited from his government connections in other ways - by funneling cash to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in return for official favors from the Philadelphia Democratic congressman.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Fattah pressed tirelessly to get Vederman a federal post, going so far as to hand-deliver a letter to President Obama in fall 2010 asking him to make Vederman a U.S. ambassador. Six days after that letter was written, the indictment said, Fattah's son cashed a $2,800 check from Vederman.

Prosecutors called that a bribe.

Vederman, through his attorney, said Wednesday that the government had "cherry-picked facts to support its cynical view of friendship and wrongly labeled it bribery."

"Mr. Vederman will plead not guilty and will defend himself at trial," lawyer Catherine M. Recker said, declining to comment further.

Vederman, 69, was one of four alleged coconspirators charged Wednesday with Fattah in the 29-count corruption case.

While prosecutors described him as a lobbyist who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., his name is well-known to officeholders here and elsewhere.

Since 2006, records show, he has given more than $100,000 in campaign contributions to a who's who of Democrats that ranges from Mayor Nutter, mayoral nominee Jim Kenney, Gov. Wolf, and District Attorney Seth Williams to Fattah, Vice President Biden, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He gave thousands to Rendell's bids for governor and was among Rendell's most prolific campaign fund-raisers.

Close friendship

During eight years as deputy mayor for economic development in the 1990s, he also became one of Rendell's closest friends. In some ways, they made an unlikely pair. Rendell has a large, boisterous personality, while Vederman was often reserved and soft-spoken.

Vederman was thrust into the spotlight in those years when he and another aide arranged a bachelor party for Vederman's cousin and asked the Department of Licenses and Inspections - which regulated topless bars - to secure strippers.

Vederman offered to resign; Rendell wouldn't accept.

For a time Vederman worked from home to escape attention, but two months later he was again entrenched in work, helping to reach a compromise with business owners on South Street furious over new ticketing and towing regulations there.

Rendell on Wednesday defended his former aide, calling him as "honorable and decent and trustworthy a person as I've met in my 36 years in public life."

He said Vederman worked "10, 12 hours a day . . . literally seven days a week" without taking a city paycheck or benefits.

All the while, Vederman continued to work for his family's business, Charming Shoppes, which owned retail stores including the now-defunct Fashion Bug.

On a financial disclosure form, Vederman listed his 1991 income as $1.6 million. But in 1996, he told The Inquirer he found more fulfillment in public service.

"If I made $1 billion in the business world, I wouldn't have the satisfaction that I have 20 times a day working here," he said.

In 2004, Vederman joined the law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young. Janet Roedell, the firm's director of operations, on Wednesday said Vederman was no longer employed there. She declined to say when he left.

What the charges say

According to Wednesday's indictment, Vederman was a senior consultant in the government-affairs practice of an unnamed Philadelphia law firm when he became finance director of Fattah's 2007 mayoral campaign, a post he held through 2011 while he negotiated the resolution of outstanding campaign debts.

Prosecutors allege that in two instances, Vederman told creditors the campaign was out of money at a time when Fattah was instead using remaining funds to pay his son's student loans.

While much of the indictment against Fattah swirls around the congressman's use of campaign funds, some of the accusations involving him and Vederman are of a more personal nature.

Prosecutors said Fattah tried to get Vederman a post as an ambassador - a plum presidents often give top campaign donors, and one that the indictment said Vederman "dearly coveted."

In turn, they said, Vederman gave money to Fattah on multiple occasions, including sponsoring a visa for Fattah's live-in au pair and paying a portion of the au pair's college tuition.

Prosecutors say Vederman occasionally transferred the money to Fattah through his son, Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., who separately is fighting federal tax-fraud and bank-fraud charges.

In April 2010, prosecutors said, Vederman gave the son a check for $3,500, which Fattah Jr. cashed before depositing $2,310 into his father's bank account. On the same day, prosecutors said, the congressman wrote a $2,381 check from his bank account to pay his own 2009 Philadelphia wage tax.

The most elaborate alleged Fattah-Vederman scheme centered on a 1989 Porsche convertible.

The indictment said Fattah in 2012 made it appear that he was selling his wife's Porsche to Vederman for $18,000, then used the money to buy a vacation home in the Poconos.

At the time, Fattah and his wife, NBC10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, were buying the home and had agreed to pay about $19,000 in settlement costs at closing.

To document the source of that money, Fattah provided his mortgage company with a copy of a bill of sale for the car - a bill his wife signed as seller, prosecutors said.

But Chenault-Fattah, who was not charged in the indictment, was still driving the car more than two years later, and took it to be serviced and renewed its registration, prosecutors said.

They said that just days after Vederman paid the $18,000 to Fattah, the congressman used his clout to return the favor in yet another way: by giving a job in his Philadelphia district office to a woman identified in the indictment only as A.Z.

The charges say she was Vederman's girlfriend.